Thursday, November 4, 2010

Teams of Destiny?

Pete Fiutak of Fox Sports made an interesting observation this week.

Only two teams in the current Top 25 have a worse strength of schedule to date than Oregon, but Oregon, which has been atop the human polls for a few weeks now, leaped past Auburn, which was the most recent top–ranked team in the BCS rankings, and controls its destiny.

Actually, as Fiutak observes, Auburn, now ranked second in the BCS, also controls its destiny. But Auburn still must face defending national champion Alabama in the annual in–state battle at the end of this month.

Then, if successful, Auburn must win the SEC championship game — and, while the SEC East is clearly down this year, don't underestimate its winner's potential to pull off an upset. Remember, it was South Carolina that ended Alabama's winning streak earlier this season.

So Auburn's road to the national title game doesn't appear quite as smooth as Oregon's. As for the other currently undefeated teams in the Top 25, the task is not impossible, just made more unlikely with the passage of time.

If, as seems likely, the national championship games match Auburn and Oregon, it ought to be an entertaining game. As Dennis Dodd observes for CBS Sports, defenses appear to be optional at both schools.

Are they truly teams of destiny? We shall see.

Two teams are idle this week: #8 Ohio State and #21 Mississippi State. All times are Central.

  • Georgia Tech at #20 Virginia Tech, 6:30 p.m. on ESPN: Virginia Tech is 4–2 against Georgia Tech since joining the ACC, but one of those losses came last year.

    That, of course, occurred on Georgia Tech's field. For the Yellow Jackets to duplicate the accomplishment on the road, I think the ground game is the key — and that isn't entirely good news for Georgia Tech, which has the nation's most productive running attack. Virginia Tech's rushing game is 16th in the country, and its run defense is 45th while Georgia Tech didn't crack the Top 50 in that category.

    All of which suggests to me that Virginia Tech may be better equipped to stop the run — and it will have a supportive home crowd. The outcome may be much closer than the double–digit point spread, but I do think Virginia Tech will win.
  • Washington at #1 Oregon, 2:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2: Oregon is 7–3 in the last 10 meetings and has won six in a row.

    Oregon has the top–ranked offense in the nation; Washington's defense is 100th. The Huskies' offense is nothing special, either, ranked 70th in the nation. Oregon's defense is adequate, at 35th.

    After watching the Ducks in action in the last few weeks, I don't see how Washington can keep up with them.

    I am confident that Oregon will win.

  • Hawaii at #2 Boise State, 2:30 p.m. on ESPNU: You might not realize it, but this is a pretty big game in the Western Athletic Conference.

    Hawaii is 5–0 in conference play and could take a huge step toward winning the conference title (not to mention cracking the Top 25) by beating Boise State, currently 3–0 in WAC play.

    But a victory for Hawaii would be a real eye popper.

    Boise State is 8–1 vs. Hawaii since they became conference rivals in 2001.

    Both teams are explosive on offense — Boise State is ranked fifth, Hawaii is ranked seventh — so the key may well be with the defenses, even though neither has been terribly impressive. And, in that category, Boise State holds a significant edge, ranked third in the nation compared to Hawaii's 39th.

    I pick Boise State to win — and continue in its unlikely quest for a spot in the national championship game.

  • Tennessee–Chattanooga at #3 Auburn, 1 p.m. on It's been 15 years since these two schools played each other. On that occasion — Sept. 9, 1995 — Auburn prevailed, 76–10.

    They met in 1986, too, and Auburn won that one, 42–14.

    The teams met more regularly in the 1970s — from 1971–1974 — and in the 1960s — from 1960–1967. They met a few times in the 1950s (1954, 1955, 1957, 1958).

    The point is that, historically, these schools aren't strangers. True, they haven't played in awhile, and they have never met anywhere except Auburn's home field.

    But I see no reason to expect the outcome to be any different. Auburn will win.

  • #4 TCU at #6 Utah, 2:30 p.m. at CBSCSN: In seven meetings since 1996, Utah is 5–2, and the Utes are 3–0 at home against the Frogs.

    Will Utah improve to 4–0 at home?

    I say no.

    That might be a mild upset as far as many are concerned, but the numbers suggest that TCU has an edge. Admittedly, it's a small one.

    Both teams are in the Top 10 nationally in defense, but TCU is ranked #1 while Utah is #6. And both teams are in the Top 25 in offense — TCU's advantage is a little more pronounced; the Frogs are 11th while the Utes are 21st.

    I think it will be a close game. It might even go into overtime. But I'm going to predict that, because of its edge on offense, TCU will prevail.

  • #5 Alabama at #12 LSU, 2:30 p.m. on CBS: Perhaps nothing so vividly illustrates Alabama's football resuscitation than its performances against LSU.

    As a comparison, the legendary Bear Bryant won 80% of his games against LSU. Since 2000, the Crimson Tide is 3–7 against the Tigers, but Alabama has won the last two meetings. LSU won the five games before that.

    Defense has long been one of the hallmarks of SEC football, and, in that category, LSU has the edge. But it's a narrow one. LSU is seventh in the nation in defense, Alabama is 11th.

    It seems to me, though, that the task facing Alabama's defense is easier than the one facing LSU's. Alabama's offense is 23rd in the nation; LSU's is a dismal 101st.

    I'll take Alabama.

  • #7 Wisconsin at Purdue, 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network: When you look at the numbers, you have to conclude that Wisconsin will win this game with ease.

    The oddsmakers have established the Badgers as favorites by some 20 points.

    The Badgers have won seven of their last 10 meetings with the Boilermakers.

    On offense, Wisconsin is 13th in the nation in rushing yards (while Purdue is 47th against the run) and 18th in points per game. On defense, Wisconsin is #22 against the run and seems capable of handling Purdue's 39th–ranked ground game.

    The only thing working against the Badgers might be the absence of the home crowd. But that has seldom stopped them before. I pick Wisconsin.

  • #9 Nebraska at Iowa State, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: In the last 32 years, Iowa State has meant a nearly automatic W for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are 28–4 against the Cyclones in that time.

    The bad news for Nebraska is that three of those Iowa State wins have come in ISU's stadium — and two of them have come within the last 10 years, in 2002 and 2004.

    But that was in that transitional period Nebraska went through several years back. They're on the upswing now.

    Of course, there is that matter of Iowa State beating Texas in Austin — not long after that same Texas team came to Lincoln and beat Nebraska.

    I just don't think a team like Iowa State can pull off more than one shocking win in a season — and the Cyclones used up their quota in their trip to Austin. I think Nebraska will win this one.

  • #13 Arizona at #10 Stanford, 7 p.m. on ABC: This has been a pretty competitive series in the last three decades. Since 1983, Arizona holds a 12–10 advantage over Stanford. And Arizona won their encounter last year, 43–38.

    Seems likely the winner of this game will finish behind Oregon in the Pac–10 — and, because Oregon probably will be invited to the national championship game, will host the Rose Bowl.

    Offense is what Pac–10 football is all about, and (with the exceptions of Oregon and USC) these may be two of the conference's best. Stanford is 16th in the country, and Arizona is 19th.

    So the game may well be decided by which defense can perform its task better, and Arizona, ranked 10th in the nation in defense, may be better prepared than Stanford, which is ranked 30th.

    I'll pick Arizona.

  • #11 Oklahoma at Texas A&M, 6 p.m. on FSN: OU has won 10 of its last 11 games against A&M — but that one exception was at College Station in 2002, the same place where this year's game will be played.

    The Aggies appear to have found their quarterback, and he picked apart Texas Tech's pass defense last week for more than 400 yards. Oklahoma's passing defense is suspect, with a national ranking of 83, but it is clearly better than Tech's, which is virtually the worst.

    And Oklahoma is pretty good at throwing the ball, too. The Sooners are ranked fifth in the nation (the Aggies are sixth).

    Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, OU has the edge against the pass. It isn't decisive, but it should be enough. I'll take Oklahoma.

  • #14 Missouri at Texas Tech. 7 p.m. on ABC: These schools aren't in the same division so they don't meet every year, but Missouri has won five of six meetings since they became members of the same conference.

    Both teams are better on offense than they are on defense. And Tech's offense has performed better this season than Missouri's. But Tech has a miserable defense, and I think it will run into more problems than Missouri's,

    Bottom line: Missouri will win.

  • #15 Iowa at Indiana, 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network: Iowa's athletic reputation is in football. Indiana's is in basketball.

    Consequently, when these schools meet on the football field, the inclination is to expect Iowa to dominate. But Iowa is only 10–7 against Indiana since 1991.

    Now, frankly, I expect 6–2 Iowa to defeat 2–6 Indiana. The teams are pretty close on offense, but Iowa has a sizable advantage on defense. And I think that, if Iowa can stop Indiana QB Ben Chappell, Iowa will win.

    I think Chappell will be stopped, and Iowa will win.

  • Minnesota at #16 Michigan State, 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network: Minnesota has won all three meetings since 2005, but Michigan State is 9–6 since 1989.

    And, while the Gophers are 3–0 since 2005, it seems clear to me that streak will end on Saturday. The teams are moving in different directions — Michigan State is 8–1, Minnesota is 1–8. Michigan State holds considerable advantages on both offense and defense.

    I pick Michigan State.

  • #17 Arkansas at #18 South Carolina, 6 p.m. on ESPN: Arkansas is 10–7 against South Carolina since joining the SEC, and the Razorbacks have won three of the last four.

    But Arkansas has had its troubles at South Carolina. The Razorbacks lost the last time they visited Columbia in 2008, and they only have a 3–5 record there since the two joined the SEC in 1992.

    This may be a game of dueling quarterback — Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, seventh in the nation in passing, and South Carolina's Stephen Garcia, fifth in the nation.

    But, even though the Gamecocks have the statistical edge at quarterback, the Razorbacks have a decided edge in total offense and total defense.

    It should be a great game, but I'll go with visiting Arkansas to win.

  • #22 Baylor at #19 Oklahoma State, 11:30 a.m. on FSN: OSU has only lost once to Baylor in 14 meetings since the teams became members of the same conference in 1996.

    And the Cowboys have never lost at home to the Bears in that time.

    The numbers suggest this could be a pretty wild offensive game. Oklahoma State has the nation's second–ranked offense behind Kendall Hunter's running and Brandon Weeden's passing. But Baylor's offense is eighth in the land, and the Bears' quarterback, Robert Griffin III, has been outperforming Weeden.

    Neither defense seems prepared to stop a sustained aerial attack; of the two, Baylor ranks highest (at 87th in the nation).

    Is it asking too much of Baylor to record back–to–back landmark victories on the road? I'm inclined to say that it is.

    I expect Oklahoma State to win the game. But watch it anyway if it's available in your area. It oughta be a good one.

  • #23 North Carolina State at Clemson, 11 a.m. on Clemson is 15–6 against N.C. State since 1989.

    But that's what happened in the past. What do the numbers tell us about 2010?

    Well, N.C. State has the better offense — by far. Clemson has the better defense, but only slightly.

    I think it might be a pretty good game, but I think, eventually, N.C. State will win.

  • North Carolina at #24 Florida State, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: Florida State is 13–1 against North Carolina since they have been conference rivals, and the Seminoles have won the last four.

    What's more, North Carolina has never won at Florida State. The Tar Heels did fight to a tie there, back in 1986, but that was it.

    So that might be working against UNC.

    Then again, it seems likely that the Seminoles' 37th–ranked defense will handle the Tar Heels' 64th–ranked offense. When Florida State has the ball, it will be a more balanced struggle.

    I think Florida State will win.

  • #25 Nevada at Idaho, 5 p.m. on Nevada has won all five meetings since both teams have been members of the WAC. Before that, as members of the Big West Conference (when it still competed in football) for a few years, the series was more competitive.

    But that was then. This is now.

    This year, Nevada's offense is third in the nation. Idaho, it should be noted, isn't too bad (ranked 33rd). Neither defense seems up to the task — Nevada is 71st in the nation, Idaho is 76th.

    I don't think Idaho's defense can stop Nevada's offense. When Idaho has the ball, Nevada's defense should fare somewhat better.

    And I expect Nevada to improve its WAC record against Idaho to 6–0.
Last week: 16–2

Season: 150–28

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